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A Midsummer Night’s Dream awakens into 21st century

Stratford gives Shakespeare’s comedy a modern twist

You’re invited to a very special wedding! Stratford’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream brings love into the 21st century with a new, celebratory production of the Shakespeare comedy.

To me, seeing a Shakespeare play is like taking a favourite old book down from the shelf. Each time you read it you should find something new to enjoy. As a former high-school Bottom (the weaver from the play, you perv) and someone who’s seen a number of interpretations of my favourite Shakespeare show — some fresh and exciting, some bland and unmemorable — I’m thrilled to report that the current Stratford production is an evening of magical transportation perfect for any fairy in your life.

Most notable is the conception of the play, directed by Chris Abraham. A same-sex couple (Josue Laboucane and Thomas Olajide) are wed, and their group of actor friends, led by the reception’s host (Scott Wentworth), put on a backyard production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, making the show a play within a play.

This framing device is genius for a number of reasons. First of all, there’s a historic context of celebrating a special event with a play, where (royal) families would produce a production, putting the children in minor roles to get the family “aww” factor. Secondly, this idea frees the production from the fourth wall, and this is utilized expertly, with a number of strategic “winking” moments where the performers draw reference to their performances, or letting modern moments shine through, allowing the show to be more playful. This is key, as it makes the production seem much more intimate; it’s a bunch of friends up onstage having a good time.

Even beyond the married couple, the production is gay in every sense of the word. There is some really fun gender switching, including turning the character of Lysander into a woman, adding a new dynamic to the denial of his (in this case, her) love for Hermia. Tara Rosling plays a unique and memorable Lysander, the perfect amount of a larger-than-life character without going over the top, and doesn’t back down from perverted moments with Hermia or Helena, necessary for the character. My worry was, with this added same-sex element, they would sanitize the production into something “family-friendly” — loathsome idea, family-friendly — but the production retains the goofily debauched sentiment necessary for a good Night’s Dream.

Similarly, Evan Buliung takes on the role of Titania. When I saw the role was to be played in drag I feared an over-the-top approach to get cheap laughs, but Buliung’s performance is so elegant and delicate that I often forgot I was watching a man in a dress. Jonathan Goad also brings a surprising amount of emotional depth to Oberon, making him a more sympathetic character than I imagined.

One of the biggest surprises of the evening was Wentworth, who took on the role of Theseus. I would have never thought Theseus a sexy character, but Shakespeare’s words in this man’s hands are seductive, a complete joy to listen to. Comedic genius Stephen Ouimette, as Bottom, inevitably steals the show with — in his case — the play-within-a-play-within-a-play, Pyramus and Thisbe.

The few quibbles I have with the production are how Puck (Chick Reid), while finely acted, misses some moments with the character, whom I’ve always seen as the most dynamic; here he is missing that spritely mischievousness. There are some lost moments when the actors turn their backs to the audience. Also, some moments work better than others; the fight between the four lovers isn’t as tight as it could be and doesn’t seem as dangerous as it should be to make it all the happier when morning comes.

I had the pleasure of taking my boyfriend to lose his Shakespeare play cherry; he loved the modern elements, which make it accessible to anyone who hasn’t yet enjoyed The Bard. He loved the Lysander gender switch, “and the fairy queen; I love how they’re switching every other time,” he said, as Buliung and Goad will be alternating in the role. “That would make me want to go watch again.”

I agree wholeheartedly. If I could return I would, in a second. I have the feeling there will be something fresh and magical to discover every night.